EDITOR’S NOTE: After a four year hiatus, Laremy makes a return guest appearance on RopeofSilicon. Treat him kindly, after all, his first review back is Battleship.
Battleship, as you would probably guess, is a complete nightmare. Devoid of all logic, the film feels exactly like a mash-up composite of every alien invasion movie you’ve ever watched — only that’s too kind. A mash-up has its own art to it (see Girl Talk) whereas Battleship most clearly does not. This is what happens when “product” is made, with the goal of commerce coming far before dialogue, story, logic or any semblance of intelligence. This isn’t the hero we wanted or needed, but it’s the one they are throwing at us. Make sure you duck!
Before the film even starts Hasbro has been credited twice, provoking insta-laughter from my screening audience. It’s sort of a chest poking gesture that says, “Well, if you take this seriously that’s YOUR problem, bub.” If Battleship is to be a joke, why is everyone taking it so seriously on-screen? Can you be both ironic about “creation” and also hate your audience for affirming you? Battleship won’t answer these questions, heck Battleship won’t answer ANY questions, but it will play ACDC over the top of guided missile cruisers attempting to destroy aliens. Regardless, let’s plunge on.
We’re introduced to Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a 26-year old rebel with a heart of gold. His big bro (Alexander Skarsgard) wants him to shape up his life, but Alex (who’s referred to only as “Hopper” even though his brother is also a “Hopper,” and an elder, but is somehow not worthy of the single-name/last name nickname) goes through life with a wink and a smile.
At the outset of the film Alex is hitting mightily on Brooklyn Decker, who, truth be told, is lovely in every way possible. Her huge features and golden smile convey at once she’s something to be pursued, even while remaining classically unattainable. These opening scenes are handled with — and there’s really no another way to say it — a stylish beauty that’s befitting of a Peter Berg film. The man has visual and pacing talent, which is why most of what comes next is so dispiriting. To consciously use one’s talents for pure mediocrity is a little death, which just might make Battleship his cry for help. But I digress.
We find out Brooklyn is THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER, and why wouldn’t she be? Taylor gets himself in trouble, but it’s for a girl, so it’s OKAY, and then WHOOSH he’s in the US NAVY as a Lieutenant. It’s interesting that the film paints Kitsch as a ne’er-do-well, but one with a college degree, and one who was promoted past Lieutenant Junior Grade very quickly. To make Kitsch a leader, as he must be for the film to work, he’s got to be in a leadership position, even though the first 15 minutes of the film take great pains to show he’s an idiot. Question is, will his idiocy “pay off” so he can save the world? Well — have you ever seen a movie?
RIMPAC is set to begin; it’s a gathering of 14 Navies from around the world in the largest war games exercise on the planet. “Cool,” I can hear you thinking, “we’ll get to see 14 Navies team up!” Uh, no you won’t. Battleship has problems with the scale of the story already, the whole Aliens vs. the World angle, so they pretty much contain the action to three ships TOTAL. Because how are you going to find time to weave India’s Navy into the story when you’re busy showing Alex is totally unprepared to lead??!! C’mon guys, let’s keep it focused on the things people truly desire, such as cliched and hackneyed hero mythologies.
Alex gets in a fight right before RIMPAC, and he’s scheduled to be in big trouble once the weekend is over. Hopefully an opportunity will come up that allows him to redeem himself. Do you think it will?
It’s at this point I should take a brief break to acknowledge that Battleship does have many slick moments. Comedy is pervasive, and the techniques used generally work over the opening half of the film. As a comedy, Battleship is fair to middling’. As a tragedy, it’s absolute perfection, though more as a metaphor to the state of the industry. As a dramatic actioner, which Battleship so desperately wants to be, it’s a complete and utter failure. But still, yes, it has a gloss and sheen that great-grandpa Top Gun would delight in. You will get your shots of The American Flag waving beautifully over awesome music with Rihanna in the background delivering quips. There’s a “25 Lighters” cover by ZZ Top that is absolutely perfect for the scene, and it’s a prime example of when crowd-sourcing a production makes sense, a solid marriage between hip-hop and rock-funk, setting the mood with verve. So that’s something, I suppose.
Speaking of marriage, Decker has coupling on her mind, and she needs Taylor to talk to Poppa Admiral, played by Liam Neeson. There are scenes of Neeson’s where you can actually see the check waiting for him juuuuust off-screen, all hail Battleship for using such a talented actor in such pitifully written material. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, Admiral Neeson isn’t so hot on his daughter Brooklyn marrying a stubborn idiot who is “wasting his skills!” Again, if only there was SOME WAY for Kitsch to prove his mettle.
For a moment, we should discuss the aliens, whom you will most likely cheer for against the Earthlings. They’re great. They’ve got these little death wheels that cut up anything in their path, they look like a much bigger version of Ghost Rider‘s scooter. The aliens have far superior weaponry overall, and for at least the first half hour of “battle” it seems like they might moon walk into the end zone, spiking the ball on our head, and doing that dance where their knees and hands alternate positions. My notes feature a line that reads: “They would win SO HARD.” Which is true, and I have no idea why alien invasion films must always go the “David vs. Goliath” route. Why not just make it seem somewhat even? Luckily, these aliens have a fatal flaw, as laid down by the “Gospel According to Signs,” which I wouldn’t dare spoil for you. The journey is the destination.
Early in the film, Kitsch is kicked in the face during a soccer game by an opponent. Thankfully, due to “movie magic” everyone grows up and the gents come to know and respect each other. Battleship is clearly hoping for a similar result here, but I can’t see most of us making it through that initial bloody nose. Even if the first 100 minutes are tolerable, it’s near the end that things get completely out of hand. Bonk-bonk, even.
The way in which the final battle is set up is so unbelievably cheesy that one wonders if someone lost a bet to include it in the third act. It drunkenly screams “AMERICA!!” at you, teetering on the edge of consciousness, before finally slipping into (and on) a pool of its own spittle. The inference seems to be that ANY action with explosions, slow-mo, and a hard soundtrack should be enough to captivate you, even as your intellect looks for any logical foothold to contextualize the maelstrom. Brother, you can look all you like, but it’s not there.